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The Woods by David Mamet | Review

An intriguing exploration of power dynamics has also become, through the passage of time since the original production in 1977, something of a period play. Ruth (Francesca Carpanini) is, she tells Nick (Sam Frenchum) – and thus the audience – Nick’s guest to a country house. Specifically, it is the ‘summerhouse’ belonging to Nick’s family, and thus not exactly a neutral venue for the couple to spend an extended weekend together. Frequent references are made to the local wildlife, which if anything justifies setting the play in ‘the woods’.

The Woods - Pamela Raith Photography
The Woods – Pamela Raith Photography

But it’s not the most accessible of plays. This isn’t problematic in itself – indeed, here, it seems to add credibility to a relationship that has been going for some time and is on the rocks: not everything needs to be explained, because they have gained an intricate knowledge of one another.

That said, as Ruth points out, she is “not a witch”, and still needs Nick to engage in meaningful conversation in order to know his thoughts. Nick, for his part, says he is finding it difficult to articulate what’s going on in his head, and the seeds of discord are thus sown. The harvest comes quickly.

What does it really mean when Nick wants to leave the property, but Ruth uses both verbal and physical force to stop him from doing so? One gets the feeling that they can’t live with one another, and yet can’t live without one another. The script is quite meandering, though, but still comes across as deliberately crafted rather than naturalistic – there are phrases that don’t lend themselves well to everyday conversation and pauses that only really exist in drama. Stories of apparent encounters with Martians and something about a big hole are bizarre and seem to be included at least partly as set-ups for each party to accuse the other of talking nonsense.

The production has a fight and intimacy coordinator (Haruka Kuroda) for a reason: there’s a considerable amount of physicality, and almost (if not entirely) all of it makes for uncomfortable viewing. Both Carpanini and Frenchum are thoroughly convincing in their roles as the characters go back and forth between being in relationship utopia to wanting nothing better than to destroy each other. There’s a rather dark sense of humour that kept permeating proceedings, and the coarse language that comes with a David Mamet play doesn’t go into overdrive until the final scene.

One wonders, given Nick’s reluctance – to put it mildly – to reciprocate Ruth’s distinctly unsubtle expressions of commitment, whether they could have just agreed to end their relationship. But that would be too handy, and unlikely to make for good theatre. Instead, the see-saw of highs and lows rumbles on, as does Nick’s obsession with wanting to indulge in bedroom activity – on the porch. He does, at least, have enough decency to apologise profusely to Ruth (even if stating here what he apologised for would constitute too much of a spoiler).

The lighting (Bethany Gupwell) did well to portray the various times of day and night the scenes occurred in. The play may have ended too abruptly for some, though I take the view that it isn’t a minute longer than it needs to be. While not everyone’s cup of tea, the show is best enjoyed, I think, with a significant other. Either way, there would be much to talk about after seeing this engaging and enigmatic production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Nick and Ruth are spending the weekend at a remote cabin in the woods. They push their relationship to breaking point in a night of stories and fights, only to rediscover their need for one another in the morning, but the final reconciliation remains uncomfortably tempered by the violent core we now know to be hiding beneath.

David Mamet’s extraordinary 1977 ‘battle of the sexes’ play gets its 1st UK revival after 21 years,
directed by Russell Bolam, at Southwark Playhouse from Thursday 24 February to Saturday 26 March, 2022.

Creative Team:
Director Russell Bolam
Set/Costume Designer Anthony Lamble
Lighting Designer Bethany Gupwell
Sound Consultant Ali Taie
Fight/Intimacy Co-ordinator Haruka Kuroda
Accent Coach Nina Zendejas
Producer/Casting Director Danielle Tarento

Danielle Tarento presents
The Woods
by David Mamet
directed by Russell Bolam

Southwark Playhouse
77-85 Newington Causeway,
London, SE1 6BD

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